The Mistletoe Murder And Other Stories by P. D. JamesThe Mistletoe Murder And Other Stories by P. D. James

The Mistletoe Murder And Other Stories

byP. D. James

Hardcover | October 25, 2016

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Just in time for the holidays! Knopf Canada publishes four Christmastime murder stories by P. D. James (two featuring a young Adam Dalgliesh), which together add up to an unexpected gift following her death in 2014.


As the acknowledged "Queen of Crime," P. D. James was frequently commissioned by newspapers and magazines to write a special short story for Christmas. Four of the best have been collected together for the first time in one volume in a beautiful hardback edition.
     P. D. James's understanding of human nature illuminates each of these stories, making them ideal reading for the darkest days of the year. Each treats the reader to her masterfully atmospheric storytelling, a mystery to be solved, and enjoyable puzzles to keep the reader guessing. With wry humour, she pays tribute to her English crime-writing forebears, delighting in the secrets that lurk beneath the surface at enforced family gatherings and in old country houses--from the title story about a strained family reunion on Christmas Eve, to another about an illicit affair that ends in murder, and two cases that introduce James's poet-detective Adam Dalgliesh as a young detective sergeant.
P. D. JAMES (1920-2014) published nineteen novels, two works of non-fiction, a memoir, and many distinguished essays. Most of her novels have been broadcast on television, and The Children of Men was the basis for an award-winning film. From 1949 to 1968 she worked in the National Health Service and subsequently in the Home Office, fir...
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Title:The Mistletoe Murder And Other StoriesFormat:HardcoverDimensions:176 pages, 7.6 × 4.8 × 0.8 inPublished:October 25, 2016Publisher:Knopf CanadaLanguage:English

The following ISBNs are associated with this title:

ISBN - 10:0345812034

ISBN - 13:9780345812032

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Reviews

Rated 4 out of 5 by from Exciting read Wonderful short mystery stories to enjoy over the holidays.
Date published: 2017-08-12
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Exciting read Wonderful short mystery stories to enjoy over the holidays.
Date published: 2017-08-12
Rated 3 out of 5 by from great book good mystery book to ready
Date published: 2017-01-23
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Great Christmas Read #plumreview I liked the idea of short murder mysteries to read over the holidays when I don't have much time. These 4 short stories by the late P.D James were more than satisfying. Each story had interesting characters, a good mystery developed and concluded quickly, and a great ending.
Date published: 2017-01-03
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Satisfying holiday mystery Wonderful short stories read like comfy Agatha Christie stories. I thoroughly enjoyed reading these stories on a holiday weekend afternoon.
Date published: 2016-11-25

Read from the Book

The horror of the murder, the concentration on every hour of that traumatic Boxing Day, has di­minished my memory of the journey and arrival. I recall Christmas Eve in a series of images, like a gritty black-and-white film, disjointed, a little surreal. The bus, blacked out, crawling, lights dimmed, through the unlit waste of the countryside under a reeling moon; the tall figure of my cousin com­ing forward out of the darkness to greet me at the terminus; sitting beside him, rug-wrapped, in his sports car as we drove through darkened villages through a sudden swirl of snow. But one image is clear and magical, my first sight of Stutleigh Manor. It loomed up out of the darkness, a stark shape against a grey sky pierced with a few high stars. And then the moon moved from behind a cloud and the house was revealed; beauty, symme­try and mystery bathed in white light.Five minutes later I followed the small circle of light from Paul’s torch through the porch with its country paraphernalia of walking-sticks, brogues, rubber boots and umbrellas, under the blackout curtain and into the warmth and brightness of the square hall. I remember the huge log fire in the hearth, the family portraits, the air of shabby com­fort, and the mixed bunches of holly and mistle­toe above the pictures and doors, which were the only Christmas decoration. My grandmama came slowly down the wide wooden stairs to greet me, smaller than I had remembered, delicately boned and slightly shorter even than my five feet three inches. But her handshake was surprisingly firm and, looking into the sharp, intelligent eyes, at the set of the obstinate mouth, so like my mother’s, I knew that she was still formidable.I was glad I had come, glad to meet for the first time my only cousin, but my grandmother had in one respect misled me. There was to be a second guest, a distant relation of the family, who had driven from London earlier and arrived before me. I met Rowland Maybrick for the first time when we gathered for drinks before dinner in a sitting-room to the left of the main hall. I disliked him on sight and was grateful to my grandmother for not having suggested that he should drive me from London. The crass insensitivity of his greeting—“You didn’t tell me, Paul, that I was to meet a pretty young widow”—reinforced my initial preju­dice against what, with the intolerance of youth, I thought of as a type. He was in the uniform of a Flight Lieutenant but without wings—Wingless Wonders, we used to call them—darkly handsome, full-mouthed under the thin moustache, his eyes amused and speculative, a man who fancied his chances. I had met his type before and hadn’t expected to encoun­ter it at the manor. I learned that in civilian life he was an antiques dealer. Paul, perhaps sensing my disappointment at finding that I wasn’t the only guest, explained that the family needed to sell some valuable coins. Rowland, who specialised in coinage, was to sort and price them with a view to finding a purchaser. And he wasn’t only interested in coins. His gaze ranged over furniture, pictures, porcelain and bronze; his long fingers touched and caressed as if he were mentally pricing them for sale. I suspected that, given half a chance, he would have pawed me and assessed my second-hand value.My grandmother’s butler and cook, indispens­able small-part characters in any country-house murder, were respectful and competent but de­ficient in seasonal goodwill. My grandmother, if she gave the matter any thought, would probably have described them as faithful and devoted re­tainers, but I had my doubts. Even in 1940 things were changing. Mrs. Seddon seemed to be both overworked and bored, a depressing combination, while her husband barely contained the lugubri­ous resentment of a man calculating how much more he could have earned as a war-worker at the nearest RAF base.I liked my room; the four-poster with its faded curtains, the comfortable low chair beside the fire, the elegant little writing-desk, the prints and wa­tercolours, fly-blown in their original frames. Be­fore getting into bed I put out the bedside light and drew aside the blackout curtain. High stars and moonlight, a dangerous sky. But this was Christ­mas Eve. Surely they wouldn’t fly tonight. And I thought of women all over Europe drawing aside their curtains and looking up in hope and fear at the menacing moon. I woke early next morning, missing the jangle of Christmas bells, bells which in 1940 would have heralded invasion. Next day the police were to take me through every minute of that Christ­mas, and every detail remains clearly in my mem­ory more than fifty years later. After breakfast we exchanged presents. My grandmother had obvi­ously raided her jewel chest for her gift to me of a charming enamel and gold brooch, and I sus­pect that Paul’s offering, a Victorian ring, a gar­net surrounded with seed pearls, came from the same source. I had come prepared. I parted with two of my personal treasures in the cause of fam­ily reconciliation, a first edition of A Shropshire Lad for Paul and an early edition of Diary of a Nobody for my grandmother. They were well received. Rowland’s contribution to the Christmas rations was three bottles of gin, packets of tea, coffee and sugar, and a pound of butter, probably filched from RAF stores. Just before midday the depleted local church choir arrived, sang half a dozen unaccom­panied carols embarrassingly out of tune, were grudgingly rewarded by Mrs. Seddon with mulled wine and mince pies and, with evident relief, slipped out again through the blackout curtains to their Christmas dinners.After a traditional meal served at one o’clock, Paul asked me to go for a walk. I wasn’t sure why he wanted my company. He was almost silent as we tramped doggedly over the frozen furrows of desolate fields and through birdless copses as joy­lessly as if on a route march. The snow had stopped falling but a thin crust lay crisp and white under a gun-metal sky. As the light faded, we returned home and saw the back of the blacked-out manor, a grey L-shape against the whiteness. Suddenly, with an unexpected change of mood, Paul began scoop­ing up the snow. No one receiving the icy slap of a snowball in the face can resist retaliation, and we spent twenty minutes or so like schoolchildren, laughing and hurling snow at each other and at the house, until the snow on the lawn and gravel path had been churned into slush. The evening was spent in desultory talk in the sitting-room, dozing and reading. The supper was light, soup and herb omelettes—a welcome con­trast to the heaviness of the goose and Christmas pudding—served very early, as was the custom, so that the Seddons could get away to spend the night with friends in the village. After dinner we moved again to the ground-floor sitting-room. Rowland put on the gramophone, then suddenly seized my hands and said, “Let’s dance.” The gramophone was the kind that automatically played a series of records and as one popular disc dropped after another—“Jeepers Creepers,” “Beer Barrel Polka,” “Tiger Rag,” “Deep Purple”—we waltzed, tan­goed, fox-trotted, quick-stepped round the sitting-room and out into the hall. Rowland was a superb dancer. I hadn’t danced since Alastair’s death but now, caught up in the exuberance of movement and rhythm, I forgot my antagonism and concentrated on following his increasingly complicated lead. The spell was broken when, breaking into a waltz across the hall and tightening his grasp, he said: “Our young hero seems a little subdued. Per­haps he’s having second thoughts about this job he’s volunteered for.” “What job?” “Can’t you guess? French mother, Sorbonne-educated, speaks French like a native, knows the country. He’s a natural.”I didn’t reply. I wondered how he knew, if he had a right to know. He went on:“There comes a moment when these gallant chaps realise that it isn’t play-acting any more. From now on it’s for real. Enemy territory beneath you, not dear old Blighty; real Germans, real bul­lets, real torture-chambers and real pain.”I thought: And real death, and slipped out of his arms, hearing, as I re-entered the sitting-room, his low laugh at my back.Shortly before ten o’clock my grandmother went up to bed, telling Rowland that she would get the coins out of the study safe and leave them with him. He was due to drive back to London the next day; it would be helpful if he could examine them tonight. He sprang up at once and they left the room together. Her final words to Paul were: “There’s an Edgar Wallace play on the Home Ser­vice which I may listen to. It ends at eleven. Come to say goodnight then, if you will, Paul. Don’t leave it any later.” As soon as they’d left, Paul said: “Let’s have the music of the enemy,” and replaced the dance re­cords with Wagner. As I read, he got out a pack of cards from the small desk and played a game of patience, scowling at the cards with furious concentration while the Wagner, much too loud, beat against my ears. When the carriage-clock on the mantelpiece struck eleven, heard in a lull in the music, he swept the cards together and said: “Time to say goodnight to Grandmama. Is there anything you want?” “No,” I said, a little surprised. “Nothing.” What I did want was the music a little less loud and when he left the room I turned it down. He was back very quickly. When the police questioned me next day, I told them that I estimated that he was away for about three minutes. It certainly couldn’t have been longer. He said calmly: “Grand­mama wants to see you.” We left the sitting-room together and crossed the hall. It was then that my senses, preternaturally acute, noticed two facts. One I told the police; the other I didn’t. Six mistletoe berries had dropped from the mixed bunch of mistletoe and holly fixed to the lintel above the library door and lay like scat­tered pearls on the polished floor. And at the foot of the stairs there was a small puddle of water. See­ing my glance, Paul took out his handkerchief and mopped it up. He said: “I should be able to take a drink up to Grandmama without spilling it.”She was propped up in bed under the canopy of the four-poster, looking diminished, no longer formidable, but a tired, very old woman. I saw with pleasure that she had been reading the book I’d given her. It lay open on the round bedside table beside the table-lamp, her wireless, the elegant lit­tle clock, the small half-full carafe of water with a glass resting over its rim, and a porcelain model of a hand rising from a frilled cuff on which she had placed her rings. She held out her hand to me; the fingers were limp, the hand cold and listless, the grasp very dif­ferent from the firm handshake with which she had first greeted me. She said: “Just to say good­night, my dear, and thank you for coming. In war­time, family feuds are an indulgence we can no longer afford.” On impulse I bent down and kissed her fore­head. It was moist under my lips. The gesture was a mistake. Whatever it was she wanted from me, it wasn’t affection. We returned to the sitting-room. Paul asked me if I drank whisky. When I said that I disliked it, he fetched from the drinks cupboard a bottle for him­self and a decanter of claret, then took up the pack of cards again and suggested that he should teach me poker. So that was how I spent Christmas night from about ten past eleven until nearly two in the morning, playing endless games of cards, listening to Wagner and Beethoven, hearing the crackle and hiss of burning logs as I kept up the fire, watching my cousin drink steadily until the whisky bottle was empty. In the end I accepted a glass of claret. It seemed both churlish and censorious to let him drink alone. The carriage-clock struck 1:45 before he roused himself and said: “Sorry, cousin. Rather drunk. Be glad of your shoulder. To bed, to sleep, perchance to dream.”We made slow progress up the stairs. I opened his door while he stood propped against the wall. The smell of whisky was only faint on his breath. Then with my help he staggered over to the bed, crashed down and was still.At eight o’clock next morning Mrs. Seddon brought in my tray of early morning tea, switched on the electric fire and went quietly out with an expressionless, “Good morning, Madam.” Half-awake, I reached over to pour the first cup when there was a hurried knock, the door opened, and Paul entered. He was already dressed and, to my surprise, showed no signs of a hangover. He said: “You haven’t seen Maybrick this morning, have you?”“I’ve only just woken up.”“Mrs. Seddon told me his bed hadn’t been slept in. I’ve just checked. He doesn’t appear to be any­where in the house. And the library door is locked.” Some of his urgency conveyed itself to me. He held out my dressing-gown and I slipped into it and, after a second’s thought, pushed my feet into my outdoor shoes, not my bedroom slippers. I said: “Where’s the library key?” “On the inside of the library door. We’ve only the one.” The hall was dim, even when Paul switched on the light, and the fallen berries from the mistletoe over the library door still gleamed milk-white on the dark wooden floor. I tried the door and, lean­ing down, looked through the keyhole. Paul was right, the key was in the lock. He said: “We’ll get in through the French windows. We may have to break the glass.” We went out by a door in the north wing. The air stung my face. The night had been frosty and the thin covering of snow was still crisp except where Paul and I had frolicked the previous day. Outside the library was a small patio about six feet in width leading to a gravel path bordering the lawn. The double set of footprints were plain to see. Some­one had entered the library by the French windows and then left by the same route. The footprints were large, a little amorphous, probably made, I thought, by a smooth-soled rubber boot, the first set partly overlaid by the second.Paul warned: “Don’t disturb the prints. We’ll edge our way close to the wall.”The door in the French windows was closed but not locked. Paul, his back hard against the window, stretched out a hand to open it, slipped inside and drew aside first the blackout curtain and then the heavy brocade. I followed. The room was dark ex­cept for the single green-shaded lamp on the desk. I moved slowly towards it in fascinated disbelief, my heart thudding, hearing behind me a rasp as Paul violently swung back the two sets of curtains. The room was suddenly filled with a clear morn­ing light annihilating the green glow, making hor­ribly visible the thing sprawled over the desk.He had been killed by a blow of immense force which had crushed the top of his head. Both his arms were stretched out sideways, resting on the desk. His left shoulder sagged as if it, too, had been struck, and the hand was a spiked mess of splintered bones in a pulp of congealed blood. On the desktop the face of his heavy gold wristwatch had been smashed and tiny fragments of glass glit­tered like diamonds.  Some of the coins had rolled onto the carpet and the rest littered the desktop, sent jangling and scattering by the force of the blows. Looking up I checked that the key was in­deed in the lock. Paul was peering at the smashed wristwatch. He said: “Half-past ten. Either he was killed then or we’re meant to believe he was.” There was a telephone beside the door and I waited, not moving, while he got through to the exchange and called the police. Then he unlocked the door and we went out together. He turned to re-lock—it turned noiselessly as if recently oiled—and pocketed the key. It was then that I noticed that we had squashed some of the fallen mistletoe berries into pulp.

Editorial Reviews

“[W]riting in her trademark careful and unhurried prose, James delivers the goods in the surprise department. . . . The book . . . represents James in very fine form.” —Toronto Star“[A] lovely collection from the late P. D. James. . . . Here, we get the Queen of Crime in her prime, with Adam Dalgliesh on the trail and the title piece set in wartime England. As always with James, character dominates and murder is messy and damaging. These tales don’t end with tea and crumpets. This is the ideal stocking stuffer for any mystery fan, and it includes a masterful little essay by James on the importance of the short story. The preface by Val McDermid is the ideal introduction if, indeed, there is anyone who still needs one to the late Baroness James. I read it in a swoop after lunch and loved every page.” —Margaret Cannon, The Globe and Mail“For those missing the Queen of Crime. . . . A lovely surprise for her fans.” —Toronto Star“[T]his posthumous collection of short stories by the Queen of Crime, P. D. James, puts a Christmas spin on the whodunit to delightfully macabre effect. . . . You’ll have visions dancing through your head . . . but they likely won’t be sugarplums.” —Canadian Living“A gift of short stories from P. D. James. . . . The late British detective novelist P. D. James was renowned as much for the elegance of her writing as for her plotting. That doesn’t obviate the bloody nature of her subject matter; James was clear about the many tolls taken by murder, but her intelligence and erudition shine forth on every page. . . . James, who died in 2014 at age ninety-four, was a great prose stylist, and these hitherto unpublished stories grant us the book of fresh material from a modern master. Since there won’t be any more Dalgleish novels, these tales are gift enough.” —St. Louis Post-Dispatch   “The best Christmas gifts are delightfully unexpected, maybe even wrapped and sent from a mystery giver. Which is exactly what this stocking-sized beauty of a book is: a special delivery from one of our best mystery givers, the inimitable P. D. James. . . . The Mistletoe Murder tales are short, sweet, wry, smart and darkly funny, and each has some Christmas connection. In other words, they’re perfect for cozying up by the fire, a cup of Earl Grey in hand, and wrapping yourself in a masterful whodunit.” —The Post and Courier (Charleston, SC)“Mystery lovers are in for a very merry time with this posthumous collection of short stories set around Christmas (and Boxing Day) from Britain’s P. D. James. . . . She delivers four stellar stories that will please fans of the author and those who like a classic Agatha Christie ‘whodunit.’ . . . All four tales will entertain and delight.” —USA Today“[F]or your thriller for Christmas, readers can do no better than The Mistletoe Murder and Other Stories by the late great P. D. James. She always managed to combine realistic, well-observed human situations with subtle detective revelations. These collected items will be a real treat for more than her die-hard admirers.” —The Irish Catholic“[A] box of crackers from P. D. James, a writer still viscerally missed by her readers.” —Mark Lawson, The Guardian“Gearing up for the festivities, classic crime offers a rich collection of Christmas gifts. High on the list is this collection of P. D. James short stories. . . . In ‘The Mistletoe Murder,’ it is James herself who takes on the role of narrator to describe a personal encounter with violent death. Is she having us on? With the late Queen of Crime, you can never be quite sure.” —Daily Mail“Devotees of literary crime fiction will long mourn the loss of P. D. James . . . But they will now welcome the arrival of The Mistletoe Murders and Other Stories with a frisson of excitement. . . . Throughout the collection, James displays all the qualities that lifted her to the heights of her work: purity of prose, mastery of setting, creativity of character and, most vitally, comprehension not only of the malevolent nature of murder but also of the myriad forces that can drive even the most unlikely people to kill. A Christmas present to be treasured, now and upon rereading, The Mistletoe Murder and Other Stories reaffirms James’s stature, reopens the sadness of her passing and rekindles the pleasure of experiencing her imagination, her intellect and her integrity.” —Richmond Times-Dispatch (VA)“Who better to cater to your Christmas crime needs than P. D. James? . . . [W]ell-turned, atmospheric tales from one of crime fiction’s greats.” —The Age (Australia)“Four perfectly drawn short mysteries. . . . Has a great mystery writer ever gone about her craft more self-consciously than P.D. James? . . . The four tales in this slim volume . . . are old-fashioned, at least up to a point: no noir, yet plenty of shadows; no explicit sex, but ample erotic tension. And James spins them with the economy demanded by the short form. . . . Among the many pleasures of reading James is her evocative style. . . . what a pleasure it is to have ‘The Boxdale Inheritance’ and its three siblings as postscripts to James’s oeuvre.” —The Washington Post“If you want knowing self-reflexivity, look no further than The Mistletoe Murder and Other Stories . . . a short but beautiful set of hitherto-uncollected Christmas-themed P.D. James stories. . . . [T]hey show James at the height of her powers, gleefully defying expectations.” —The Guardian“Fascinating.” —The Seattle Times